The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a visa as “an endorsement made on a passport by the proper authorities denoting that it has been examined and that the bearer may proceed.” In reality, having a visa does not guarantee you can proceed into another country. According to the U.S. Department of State, which issues visas on behalf of the U.S.:
Having a U.S. visa allows you to travel to a port of entry, airport or land border crossing, and request permission of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inspector to enter the United States. While having a visa does not guarantee entry to the United States, it does indicate a consular officer at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad has determined you are eligible to seek entry for that specific purpose.
If the customs border agent determines that a traveler should not enter for any valid reason, the agent can deny entry in spite of the visa. Your author was once nearly denied entry into Ireland because she failed to explain why she was visiting Killybegs, in Donegal Ireland, a remote commercial fishing town instead of a tourist destination where tourists are expected to visit. Part of the assessment the officer was making was whether the intent of the entrant is consistent with the issued visa. If the intent does not appear to match with the type of visa, then that may be grounds for a denial of entry.
Visa intent generally fall into two categories: non-immigrant and immigrant. Non-immigrant visas are for travel on a temporary basis, so the intent has to be for bona-fide short visits. In the U.S., non-immigrant visas are issued for the following purposes:
Athletic events, au pair, border crossing, business visitor, crew members, diplomats, domestic employees, NATO, Exchange Visitors, Extraordinary ability, NAFTA, Medical Treatment, Media, Journalist, Artists, Physician, Professors, Religious Workers, Specialty workers, Student, Temporary agricultural workers, Tourists, Training, Treaty traders, Transit, Victims of crime and human trafficking, Visas for spouse and children of LPR.
Immigrant visas are for residing long-term, such as marriage to a local, so the intent should be to reside. Immigrant visas are issued for the following purposes:
Spouse of USC, fiancé of US Citizen and live in US, intercountry adoption of orphan children, family members of USC, family members of US residents, priority workers, professionals holding advance degrees, professionals, employment creation/investors, certain special immigrants, diversity immigrants and returning immigrants.
Other countries have similar types of non-immigrant and immigrant visas, based on bilateral and multi-lateral agreements with other nations, and based on their national interest policies. If you are of Arab and Iraqi origins, regardless of your nationality or passport, you may enter Iraq without a visa. Or, if you are a national of a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates), you have special visa privileges not afforded to other nationalities when moving among the member states.
Additionally, a visa no longer needs to be a physical endorsement in a passport. It usually is, like the Chinese visa to the left. But with changes in the ways visas are processed, a visa may now be electronic or an on-arrival sticker, as well as in the physical formats.
Countries are gradually moving their visa processing online, with Australia nearly exclusively using their online platform for the issuance of tourist, business, residency, and work visas. The approval is tied to their passport number, so one simply needs to arrive with the passport used in the application process to be considered for admission. Other countries that have recently taken their visa application processes for tourist and visitors online include Angola, Brazil, India, and Turkey. The second time the author entered Turkey, she applied online and printed out the confirmation sheet prior to her arrival. The print out was sufficient for entry along with her passport.
Visas may also be issued upon arrival with a sticker placed in the passport at the port of entry. The first time the author visited Turkey, she received a visa-upon-arrival, which was paid for at the airport after queuing in a visa arrival line. A small sticker was placed in her passport indicating the price of the visa.
Other countries do not require additional payment for a visa upon arrival, such as Qatar, which currently offers free visa upon arrival for up to 80 nationalities.
Countries also do not always issue their own visas. Some rely on other nation(s) for visa issuance due to their diplomatic relationship, proximity, or border. This includes Andorra, through Spain or France; San Marino, through Italy; Monaco, through France; and Liechtenstein, through Switzerland. At other times, countries will rely on their diplomatic relationships for the processing of visas where they do not have representation for visa issuance. For instance, you may obtain an Austrian visa through the German Consulate General in Houston. The Embassy of Latvia in Washington D.C. and Consulate General of Italy represent Estonia in issuing visas on behalf of Estonia. There are many other arrangements like this that we cover in our Visa-Adviser® app and web app, seamlessly integrated into the procedure information of the country of your destination. Check our app or web app for the latest updates.